Cult-Celebrity Branding: A lesson from the NBA

9 04 2009

Any theorynpractice regulars will know of my bias towards covering the NBA on this blog (I’m sorry, it’s just fun to pull out public relations learnings from stuff that happens in the NBA, for good or for bad). This one I couldn’t help but bring out. And I’ll start with a question:

How do you build a cult-celebrity inducing brand? 

Tapping into pop culture and gaining a following that transcends mere consumer favoritism is arguably the Holy Grail for many companies.  In fact, there have been a slew of books written about it, and yet, it’s anything but an exact science.

The fact of the matter is, it may very well be serendipitous, a combination of being in the right place at the right time, and viewed by the right people–especially if they’re keen on satire…Today’s example comes from, where else?, the Los Angeles Lakers, where a relatively under-known player has garnered some major attention. Sasha Vujajic, from Slovenia, is a 3 point specialist for the Lakers, who is often fondly referred to as “The Machine”. The nickname has a fuzzy origin, either initiated by Kobe Bryant, who said he’s a machine, or by Vujajic, himself, who said he shoots like a machine. One Laker fan decided to run with it, and has created a buzz-worthy set of videos, including a game vlog built around The Machine character.

Now, the video is a crude representation of Sasha, and could even be considered offensive. Though, taken in fun, it could also be considered invaluable publicity for the Lakers. Vujajic’s response, though somewhat ambivalent (see video below), may be a valuable lesson for other companies that may find their brand interpreted perhaps incorrectly in the spotlight.

The Lesson:  Run with it (with in reason). Celebrity and popularity, unfortunately, are up to the audience, and, therefore sharing brand building with fans, customers, etc., may be essential in building a cult brand, even if it doesn’t represent the company’s own intended image.


Leadership Lessons from the Easter Egg Roll

4 04 2009

This is a tale of leadership mayhem, good (albeit faulty) intentions, and unintended consequences…and perhaps, there may be something to learn from in it…

Every year, the White House puts on a big shin dig Easter Egg Hunt  Roll, where anyone can come and enjoy the season on the White House lawn. Usually there are hundreds of things for the kids to do, free games, free food, celebrities, and photo-ops with everyone from the Easter Bunny to Mr. McFeely. 

The only “price of admission” has been your own determination to sit in line overnight to get tickets. Last year I weathered the chilly late winter weather and lived the life of a vagabond in line outside of the White House for tickets. It was cold. It was exhausting. But it was worth it, because, in the end, I showed my true-blue American patriotism to take my kids to an event that they would never forget (Trust me, I took enough pictures to make sure they NEVER would).

This year, while waiting for the day and night to go vagabond again, my wife and I were dismayed to find that *someone* had changed the routine, and put the tickets online. For the sake of fairness, inclusion, and reaching a welcoming hand out to anyone and everyone (you know, the American way), the process was made electronic so all could access this truly American event…

At least that was the intention.

Nevermind that people who camp out all night are vicious, die-hards who are quick to call “no cutting!” Never mind that everyone from local hotel conceirge’s to less-fortunate downtown residents without a permanent home (Yes, homeless people) charge upwards of $100 to wait in line on behalf of someone.  Nevermind that this is a unique one-time a year event, almost as unique as a local sports team winning a game. No…this was for the American Way!

The result: the tickets were gone in minutes, and the only place to find them is on Craigslist selling for $50 a pop.  And notwithstanding White House efforts to stimy online sales, no amount of policing of ticket hawking will stop the tide.  It wouldn’t have been half as frustrating if the white house site was prepared for the millions of hits it would get and didn’t crash so often. People ended up camping out in front of their computer for 24 hours trying to get tickets.

So what do we learn here? Unintended consequences can ruin good intentions. And I think it’s a leadership lesson, above anything else. All too often in leadership, someone may come up with a good idea and latch onto it. Offer Easter Egg Roll tickets online! Fantastic idea! Think of the praise for such an innovative idea! And while many may say leadership is born in good ideas, such as this one, it’s not the idea that makes the leader, it’s a leader’s foresight that determines his or her leadership acumen–as in the foresight to see the consequences of offering tickets to Obama’s first Easter Egg Roll to an online world with millions starving for an opportunity to make a buck, or 50.

Then again, maybe I’m just peeved that thanks to change in standard operating procedures, I don’t get to take my kids to the Easter Egg Roll, and someone from Colorado is selling my tickets to the highest bidder….

I like my other reasoning better though.